Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Contrasting Regions

By Harriet Jacobs

Contrasting Regions

I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the North, who enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. They do the work. (8.4)

Jacobs wants the reader to see that the North and South are interdependent. They work together to enforce some of slavery’s cruelest laws.

At daylight, I heard women crying fresh fish, berries, radishes, and various other things. All this was new to me. I dressed myself at an early hour, and sat at the window to watch that unknown tide of life. Philadelphia seemed to me a wonderfully great place. (31.9)

Hey! Linda is actually expressing happiness and wonder. This might be the first time we've seen her in a good mood.

This was the first chill to my enthusiasm about the Free States. Colored people were allowed to ride in a filthy box, behind white people, at the south, but there they were not required to pay for their privilege. It made me sad to find how the north aped the customs of slavery. (31.12)

Mostly, Jacobs seems to want to show not how different the North is from the South, but how similar the two places are.

Being in servitude to the Anglo-Saxon race, I was not put into a “Jim Crow car,” on our way to Rockaway, neither was I invited to ride through the streets on the top of trunks in a truck; but every where I found the same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. (35.5)

Okay, so she's not enslaved. Other than that, the North is pretty much business as usual.

For the first time in my life I was in a place where I was treated according to my deportment, without reference to my complexion. I felt as if a great millstone had been lifted from my breast. Ensconced in a pleasant room, with my dear little charge, I laid my head on my pillow, for the first time, with the delightful consciousness of pure, unadulterated freedom. (37.2)

Check out where Linda experiences this “delightful consciousness”—in England. She can only really feel at home when she's actually nowhere near home.

I had heard much about the oppression of the poor in Europe. The people I saw around me were, many of them, among the poorest poor. But when I visited them in their little thatched cottages, I felt that the condition of even the meanest and most ignorant among them was vastly superior to the conditions of the most favored slaves in America. (37.4)

Jacobs prods her readers a little bit here by suggesting that America is not as devoted to freedom and liberty as it might think. Maybe England, America’s bitter rival and former colonial master, is actually treating its citizens better.

I remained abroad ten months, which was much longer than I had anticipated. During all that time, I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for us to return to America. (37.7)

For the first time in her life, Linda learns what it's like not to be judged based on her skin tone. So why is prejudice considered so normal in America?

I was, in fact, a slave in New York, as subject to slave laws as I had been in a Slave State. Strange incongruity in a State called free! (40.10)

Once the Fugitive Slave Law passes in 1850, Jacobs suggests, the Northern states begin to look suspiciously like the Southern states.